Oracle's Ellison takes aim at HP's Apotheker; TomorrowNow trial jabs escalate

The war of words over next week's Oracle vs. SAP trial over TomorrowNow is escalating and HP and its new CEO is caught in the crossfire. Now we have Larry Ellison telling HP that it can't bring Leo Apotheker to headquarters unless it wants him to testify.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

The war of words over next week's Oracle vs. SAP trial over TomorrowNow is escalating and Hewlett-Packard and its new CEO is caught in the crossfire.

In a statement late Tuesday, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said that the company plans to prove that HP CEO Leo Apotheker knew all about what TomorrowNow, a third party support company formerly owned by SAP, was up to when it was swiping intellectual property.

Ellison's statement comes just a few days after SAP requested a gag order in the TomorrowNow trial, which kicks off next week. SAP has acknowledged guilt, but has scoffed at Oracle's claim that it deserves $1 billion in damages. However, SAP set aside $160 million in its most recent quarter for damages over the TomorrowNow trial.

The last two weeks in the Oracle vs. SAP suit has been interesting. The New York Times took HP's board to task for hiring Apotheker and firing Hurd. Columnist Joe Nocera said HP's board had a double standard on ethics. HP Chairman Ray Lane then leaked a letter to the Times ripping Nocera. Later, it was discovered that Nocera's fiance is a publicist for the lawfirm Oracle hired to litigate against SAP.

That conflict led SAP to ask for a gag order in the TomorrowNow case. SAP argued that extracurricular yapping from Oracle shouldn't be allowed.

However, muzzles don't quite work on Ellison. In any case, Ellison's beef is all about HP and Apotheker now. SAP almost seems like a sidebar.

Enter Ellison's statement:

A few weeks ago I accused HP's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, of overseeing an industrial espionage scheme centering on the repeated theft of massive amounts of Oracle's software. A major portion of this theft occurred while Mr. Apotheker was CEO of SAP. HP's Chairman, Ray Lane, immediately came to Mr. Apotheker's defense by writing a letter stating, 'Oracle has been litigating this case for years and has never offered any evidence that Mr. Apotheker was involved.' Well, that's what we are planning to do during the trial that starts next Monday.

Unless, Mr. Lane and the rest of the HP Board of Directors decide to keep their new CEO far, far away from HP Headquarters until that trial is over. If HP keeps Leo Apotheker far from HP headquarters we cannot subpoena him to testify at that trial.

I don't think Ray Lane wants to risk Leo Apotheker testifying under oath as to why he allowed the theft of Oracle property to continue for 8 months after he was made sole CEO of SAP. I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is that HP's new Chairman, Mr. Lane, will keep HP's new CEO, Mr. Apotheker, far, far away from the Courthouse until this trial is over."

So what we have here is Ellison telling HP that it can't bring its new CEO to its headquarters. If HP does, Oracle will call him to testify. Clearly, Ellison's statement is about embarrassing Apotheker and HP. What remains to be seen is whether Apotheker will actually testify.

The other wrinkle here is SAP's financial results landed on Wednesday. SAP's quarter generally disappointed Wall Street, but the company did throw a jab back at Oracle.

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Co-CEO of SAP, said:

“The experience we have gained with our more than 100,000 customers over many years tells us that they want choice, openness and innovation from their technology partners. The opposite seems to be happening as more technology companies want to lock in their customers to a single vendor on one proprietary technology stack."

That's about as close as you'll get to trash talk from SAP.

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